Skip to comments.‘Imagine’: Why John Lennon’s Most Enduring Song Is Actually His Worst
Posted on 12/06/2012 10:18:56 AM PST by raccoonradio
As we approach the 32nd anniversary of John Lennons death, I think its time to take a hard look at the song that sadly and improperly personifies Lennons legacy for far too many people.
That song is Imagine.
Why this weak entry in Lennons dazzling oeuvre receives such adoration mystifies me. The song features a syrupy melody, a cloying piano line, none of the startling chord or time changes that distinguished Lennons great Beatles songs, and no memorable hook.
Lyrically its even worse. There are lines in this song that a young John Lennon would have savaged.
No need for greed or hunger, a brotherhood of man.
Oh, spare me. This is Jonathan Livingston Seagull territory; mawkish sentiment shoehorned into Lennons ironically un-Imaginative melodic framework.
Clearly, the song has attained its beloved status because it addresses world peace, or some Yoko-inspired concept of what world peace should look like: The world will be as one, stuff, clumsy phrasing depicting inaccessible ideals.
World peace is a wonderful value. I appreciate Lennons pursuit of it, as nutty as that pursuit was (Literally nutty: John and Yoko sent acorns to world leaders).
The problem is, every time I hear Imagine I feel the need to listen to Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite or some other brilliant Lennon song to remind me of his true genius. Some artists can turn big societal observations into memorable pieces. Others lose their art to their cause. Lennons musical creativity seemed to decline in proportion to the importance of his subject matter.
When I hear Imagine I picture Lennon setting about to write an Important Song about Important Things: peace, love, understanding, Heaven, whatever. This approach big thought, music and lyrics to follow doomed the piece from the outset. It is precisely opposite from the approach that made Lennon a songwriting immortal. His great pieces featured flashpoint creativity, whether sparked by a poster (Mr. Kite), a cereal jingle (Good Morning, Good Morning), a drawing by his son (Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds), or the death of a friend (A Day in the Life).
Lennon mined his boyhood to great effect, both in his memories of place (Strawberry Fields Forever) and literature (I Am the Walrus). He produced many of his gems under deadline pressure, with recording schedules beckoning and Paul McCartney ready to go. Lennon lacked the time to reflect, thus, he created.
Imagine is all reflection, and thats what makes it so mundane.
Some artists can turn big societal observations into memorable pieces. Others lose their art to their cause. Lennons musical creativity seemed to decline in proportion to the importance of his subject matter. Imagine has its roots in Give Peace a Chance, another Lennon world-improvement effort featuring inspired concepts and featureless musicality. Message trumped music. Whether this was a byproduct of ego, or laziness, or misguidance, or simple evaporation of talent, Im not sure.
Plus, theres an undercurrent of condescension to the piece, with Lennon laying out his insipid version of world peace (no hell below us, above us only sky) and then asking whether we can imagine it along with him, before belittling our capacity to do so (I wonder if you can). Yes, we can. Imagining world peace is the easy part.
Jim Borghesani: Imagine is all reflection, and thats what makes it so mundane. (Album cover)
McCartney certainly released his share of saccharine tunes over the years, but at least he had the good graces to call them what they were silly love songs. And Paul never fell into the pretentious trap of thinking that his music could stop bullets from flying.
I dont disparage Imagine and other post-Beatle Lennon compositions (Our life, together, is so precious, together, we have grown, we have grown Oh, the pain!) because I dislike Lennons music. Quite the contrary. I disparage them because I love Lennons music. His memory should live on in the sparkling songs he created as an acerbic, witty Beatle not in the mushy musical observations of his later years.
So, on Dec. 8, Ill be thinking about John Lennon. Ill be thinking about how utterly cool he looked on the back of Revolver. Ill be thinking about his ghostly vocal on A Day in the Life. Ill remember seeing the Beatles perform Lennons Rain on The Ed Sullivan Show, and realizing their music had, impossibly, become even more brilliant.
And, in honor of Lennon, when Imagine comes on the radio, Ill change the station.
Love Beatles music. Love John Lennon’s music.
Always HATED that song!
Is that Ringo on the far left? Ringo was my mother’s favorite.
In one paragraph, the author lists gour “great” songs, and they are all off of the same album! The guy was a pop artist, the tune is catchy and singable (try singing any of the ones listed in the shower). The early 70s had a different sound than the late 60s. Some power pop, more soft ballads and novelty records. Throw in Yoko Ono, and this is what you get. Lennon and the Beatles were a talented pop band. Trying to say that Mr Kite is high art, however, reminds me of the Led Zeppelin and Doors fans of the 70s who attacked acts that didn’t write their own ditties and kept the tunes under 4 minutes. These same folks mostly can’t even LISTEN to Bach. I’ll take Fats Domino and Del Shannon. They didn’t take their work that seriously, they just made great popular music.
Actually, if you take that appearance on Dick Cavett's show as consistent with one of the sub-themes of the film...that Gump was responsible for a number of historical and cultural happenings throughout the 60's and 70's (Watergate, the running craze, the happy face t-shirt) then that reference to 'Imagine' makes no sense.
'Imagine' was released in 1971. Gump's appearance on Cavett's show was in 1972.
Watch the film again. You'll see.
I’ve got several Beatle’s music books for guitar that are well used. There’s no other pop group who created as many songs that are adaptable for guitar and other instruments as the Beatles. But I never play “Imagine.” It’s just not a very good song. The melody is pedestrian, and the lyrics are too sappy.
One of the bad parts of THE KILLING FIELDS is the use of IMAGINE. After all, the lyrics described much of what the Khymer Rouge professed to believe. The other sorry bit in the film was poor ole Sidney wondering if the costly bombing campaign caused the Khymer Rouge to go into such madness.
If Lennon had lived longer he would have turned against IMAGINE as he had already turned against “Benefit Concerts” as rip offs. Lennon had already become pro-police and donated to the NYPD for bullet-proof vests.
It just caught my eye in that picture that he was the only Beatle dressed all in black. My mom loved him because he was perceived as the “bad boy” of the band.
I would argue that it is not his most enduring song.
Agreed. I like Lennon’s music, but “Imagine” is so bad that it makes me cringe when I hear that insipid piano playing on it. Same seven notes repeated over and over for three minutes, really? Never mind the lousy lyrics, too. I much prefer “Jealous Guy” or “Just Like Starting Over”.
I like a lot of Beatle’s music, but I think Lennon took himself just a little too seriously. There’s a hilarious parody of Lennon done by Tony Hendra that was played on Imus’s show one time. Side-splitting. “Don’t you know I’m a genius!!!!”
I also liked the Beatles, and agree that “Imagine” sucked ass. I thought McCartney was the better songwriter.
Too many people here bash the Beatles as being some kind of cause of the downfall of the United States. Come on, folks; it’s music. They were musicians. Musicians are good at making music and bad at making public policy. The problem isn’t with the Beatles, it’s with a population of stupid perpetual children who couldn’t figure out what job they were suited for.
The Beetles were and are outlandishly over rated. But who can understand popular tastes?
I’m always interested in the musical tastes of those who say what you have said.
Your second question - who can understand popular tastes - clearly Taylor Swift’s production team does. To our great detriment (ok, that was just my own personal opinion - kind of like your opinion on the over rating of the Beatles).
Next thing I know, you’ll be trying to tell me that Lt. Dan COULD NOT have invested Gump’s money in some fruit company.
“Lieutenant Dan got me invested in some kind of fruit company. So then I got a call from him, saying we don’t have to worry about money no more. And I said, that’s good!”
The very first time I heard “Imagine”—from a radio broadcast in Germany in 1972—it instantly struck me as being about the utopia dreamed of by Karl Marx. I thought the singer was some Communist Party hack before I found out who it actually was several months later.
Imagine there’s no Beatles
Its easy if you try
John and George below us
Above us God’s blue sky...
>> “ I thought the singer was some Communist Party hack” <<
You pretty much nailed him to the wall.
I wonder if he still thinks “Happiness is a Warm Gun”.